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She's Not Just a Pretty Face : The Best Player on Her Boys' Team, Ruggiero Gains All-Star Recognition

July 21, 1994|IRENE GARCIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With long blond hair, expressive blue eyes and thick dark lashes, Angela Ruggiero of Simi Valley looks every bit a prom queen. She speaks softly and giggles often in the manner of an easygoing California teen-ager.

But when Ruggiero changes into her hockey gear a demeanor change follows.

Her nickname? "The Terminator."

There's something about skating on ice in pads and shin guards that transforms Ruggiero, 14, who will be a ninth-grader at Valley View Junior High in the fall.

The girlish stuff disappears. By necessity. According to Ruggiero, the boys she competes against resent having her around, and their rough play reflects it.

No problem, says Ruggiero, who is 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds.

She learned to deal with that a long time ago. She has been pushed around, laughed at and teased by boys since she started playing the game at the age of 7.

"At first she faced lots of nasty comments from boys," said Ruggiero's father, Bill. "They've used every name in the book. She used to cry and say, 'Dad, look what that boy called me.' "

Now she's the only girl in California playing AA hockey, the state's highest amateur level. The top level in the nation is AAA but California currently has no AAA teams.

"Most boys don't say much anymore," Ruggiero said. "But they still get mad when I check them. Their teammates laugh at them and say, 'Ha ha, you got knocked down by a girl.' I just don't take it personally anymore."

Ruggiero became interested in hockey seven years ago when her father enrolled her younger brother, Billy, in a local clinic.

Last year, the siblings led their Pasadena-based youth team to the state age-group championship in Redwood City. Billy, 13, is a goaltender.

Angela, a defender, was recently selected to represent California Aug. 7-11 in a national girls' tournament in Hartford, Conn. Forty of the state's top girls were invited to try out for the team last month in Lake Arrowhead and 20 were chosen.

Jennifer Horton of Thousand Oaks and Anne Riley-Katz of Valencia also made the team. Horton, 15, is a defender and Riley-Katz, 17, is a forward.

Because there haven't been enough players to form a league of their own, California never had an all-star girls' hockey team, according to Bob Varo of USA Hockey, the national governing body for amateur hockey in the United States.

"Some of those girls are pretty good players and they can hold their own," Varo said of the new California team.

"And this is not don't-hit-me-type hockey. There will be full checking."

Ruggiero is the team's best player, according to Coach Todd Sharinn. Look for her name on the 1998 U.S. Olympic team roster, he said, when women's ice hockey will make its debut as a medal sport.

Sharinn grew up playing hockey in New York City, where the sport is as popular as pickup basketball is in California. He competed at Boston University and played at the semipro level. He has coached boys for two years.

"Angela is a tremendous player," Sharinn said. "She is this state's No. 1 hopeful for the next Olympic team. She's big and strong and one of the only players on this team that I can say, literally, can skate with the boys."

Ruggiero spends about 25 hours weekly training for hockey. She runs for 45 minutes every morning, shoots 500 pucks daily in her garage then travels with her father and brother to rinks throughout the Southland for matches.

She also plays basketball at Valley View, runs track and cross country and is an honor student. On Saturdays she awakens at 3:30 a.m. to make a 5:15 ice-hockey practice in Pasadena. Occasionally, she does the same on Thursdays.

"And I don't eat junk food either," Ruggiero said smiling. "Obviously, I can't do much on weekends because I'm always playing hockey. But I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything. I love hockey."

The work has paid off. In April she excelled at a tryout camp in Anaheim where she earned an invitation to the national women's 17-and-under camp in Lake Placid this month.

But when USA Hockey officials discovered Ruggiero's age, they canceled her invitation. Players must be 15, and Ruggiero's birthday isn't until January.

"I'd say she's in the top 5% in the country of every player her age, that's boys or girls," said Scott Plumer, who coaches at the Pasadena Ice Skating Center. "Physically she's probably one of the top three toughest players I've ever coached and I've coached at a pretty high level.

"Angela is an in-your-face kind of player. She's also very intelligent and she reads plays well."

Bill Ruggiero, who works at a Simi Valley glass shop, predicts the family will move to a hockey hotbed such as Minnesota in the next few years so his daughter can develop with top-notch players.

She's all for it. The harder the competition, the better. In fact, she considers the state's lack of female players a kind of blessing.

"I like playing against the boys because they're tougher and they play harder," Ruggiero said. "It really pushes me to do better and I really like that."

It's probably safe to say that beauty contests won't be part of Ruggiero's future. She'll be busy pounding opponents on the ice.

Playing It Cool

* What: Girls all-star ice hockey tournament.

* When: Aug. 7-11.

* Where: Hartford, Conn.

* Who: Jennifer Horton, a 15-year-old defender from Thousand Oaks, Anne Riley-Katz, a 17-year-old forward from Valencia, and Angela Ruggiero, a 14-year-old defender from Simi Valley.

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